Attaque de novembre 1970 : quarante-sept ans après

La date d’aujourd’hui marque le quarante-septième anniversaire de l’attaque du 22 novembte 1970 par un commando militaire portugais et des opposants guinéens armés contre Conakry. L’opération visait deux objectifs :

  • La libération des dix-huit prisonniers de guerre Portugais — dont le fils du maire de Lisbonne — qui avaient été capturés par la guerilla du PAIGC dirigée par Amilcar Cabral
  • L’élimination du Président Sékou Touré et l’abolition de son régime
Prisonniers de guerre Portugais capturés au combat, transférés et détenus au camp du PAIGC, situé au quartier Bellevue de Conakry. Ils furent libérés et rapatriés par le commando du 22 novembre 1970.
Prisonniers de guerre Portugais capturés au combat, transférés et détenus au camp du PAIGC, situé au quartier Bellevue de Conakry. Ils furent libérés et rapatriés par le commando du 22 novembre 1970.

J’ai constitué le présent dossier pour rappeller à la mémoire ce bref épisode aux conséquences profondes et prolongées, draconniennes et inhumaines. Et qui continue de hanter la Guinée. Pour introduire cette sélection, j’ai choisi un extrait de l’analyse lucide de Sako Kondé, l’auteur de Guinée, le temps des fripouilles. Directeur général de la Douane jusqu’en 1965, cet intellectuel et critique implacable de la dictature guinéenne dresse, dans le chapitre IX du livre  “Pour l’honneur de la Guinée et de l’Afrique”, le réquisitoire du régime et celui des dirigeants de  l’opposition en exil. Il les met dans le même sac, et il rend  hommage aux Guinéens qui prirent les armes contre le régime. Sako Kondé écrit :

  « A l’aube du 22 novembre 1970, des Guinéens ont débarqué sur le sol natal, l’arme à la main, décidés à abattre la tyrannie ou à mourir. Si l’opération a tourné à la tragédie, ce ne fut pas, en tout cas, parce que le régime leur a opposé une quelconque résistance aux premières heures : il était virtuellement vaincu, le prétendu « attachement indéfectible » du peuple n’ayant à aucun moment joué. Ce fut à cause de la trahison des chefs politiques de l’affaire. Mais avant de mourir, les combattants ont fait revivre intensément une chose qu’on aurait cru désormais oubliée des Guinéens : le courage, l’audace. En accomplissant leur devoir comme ils l’ont fait, ils ont administré une terrible leçon à l’actuel personnel politique. Ils l’ont aussi donnée aux quelques Guinéens qui ont conduit l’affaire au niveau politique en la ramenant à la dimension d’une ténébreuse aventure, et prouvé qu’ils appartiennent au même type socio-politique que les dirigeants en place. Leur mort héroïque constitue le seul moment rassurant et encourageant de cette lamentable entreprise menée par de soi-disant opposants sous le signe de la médiocrité, de l’inconscience criminelle … Il nous fallait, avant de poursuivre, faire cette distinction essentielle et rendre hommage au courage de ces gars bien de chez nous. »

… La suite est accessible à la bibliothèque du Camp Boiro Mémorial.

La collection inclut aussi les documents suivants :

L’hebdomadaire annonça l’évènement avec en exclusivité le récit d’un des Guinéens de l’expédition. Mais l’informateur anonyme présente une version  erronée des faits. relevait de l’intoxation et de la propagande. Il prétend notamment que le coup avait été conçu, financé et exécuté entièrement par des Guinéens, sans l’appui ou la participation du Portugal. Ce qui était faux.…

Jeune Afrique corrige ici l’information erronée contenue dans le numéro 518 à propos d’une opération strictement organisée par l’opposition en exil.

Tierno S. Bah

In Memoriam D. W. Arnott (1915-2004)

D.W. Arnott. The Nominal and Verbal Systems of Fula
D.W. Arnott. The Nominal and Verbal Systems of Fula

This article creates the webAfriqa homage and tribute to the memory of Professor David W. Arnott (1915-2004), foremost linguist, researcher, teacher and publisher on Pular/Fulfulde, the language of the Fulbe/Halpular of West and Central Africa. It is reproduces the obituary written in 2004 par Philip J. Jaggar. David Arnott belonged in the category of colonial administrators who managed to balance their official duties with in-depth social and cultural investigation of the societies their countries ruled. I publish quite a log of them throughout the webAfriqa Portal: Vieillard, Dieterlen, Delafosse, Person, Francis-Lacroix, Germain, etc.
The plan is to contributed to disseminate as much as possible the intellectual legacy of Arnott’s. Therefore, the links below are just part of the initial batch :

Tierno S. Bah


D. W. Arnott was a distinguished scholar and teacher of West African languages, principally Fulani (also known as Fula, Fulfulde and Pulaar) and Tiv, David Whitehorn Arnott, Africanist: born London 23 June 1915; Lecturer, then Reader, Africa Department, School of Oriental and African Studies 1951-66, Professor of West African Languages 1966-77 (Emeritus); married 1942 Kathleen Coulson (two daughters); died Bedale, North Yorkshire 10 March 2004.

He was one of the last members of a generation of internationally renowned British Africanists/linguists whose early and formative experience of Africa, with its immense and complex variety of peoples and languages, derived from the late colonial era.

Born in London in 1915, the elder son of a Scottish father, Robert, and mother, Nora, David Whitehorn Arnott was educated at Sheringham House School and St Paul’s School in London, before going on to Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he read Classics and won a “half-blue” for water polo. He received his PhD from London University in 1961, writing his dissertation on “The Tense System in Gombe Fula”.

Following graduation in 1939 Arnott joined the Colonial Administrative Service as a district officer in northern Nigeria, where he was posted to Bauchi, Benue and Zaria Provinces, often touring rural areas on a horse or by push bike. His (classical) language background helped him to learn some of the major languages in the area — Fulani, Tiv, and Hausa — and the first two in particular were to become his languages of published scientific investigation.

It was on board ship in a wartime convoy to Cape Town that Arnott met his wife-to-be, Kathleen Coulson, who was at the time a Methodist missionary in Ibadan, Nigeria. They married in Ibadan in 1942, and Kathleen became his constant companion on most of his subsequent postings in Benue and Zaria provinces, together with their two small daughters, Margaret and Rosemary.

From 1951 to 1977, David Arnott was a member of the Africa Department at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas), London University, as Lecturer, then Reader, and was appointed Professor of West African Languages in 1966. He spent 1955-56 on research leave in West Africa, conducting a detailed linguistic survey of the many diverse dialects of Fulani, travelling from Nigeria across the southern Saharan edges of Niger, Dahomey (now Benin), Upper Volta, French Sudan (Burkina Faso and Mali), and eventually to Senegal, Gambia, and Guinea. Many of his research notes from this period are deposited in the Soas library (along with other notes, documents and teaching materials relating mainly to Tiv and Hausa poetry and songs).

He was Visiting Professor at University College, Ibadan (1961) and the University of California, Los Angeles (1963), and attended various African language and Unesco congresses in Africa, Europe, and the United States. Between 1970 and 1972 he made a number of visits to Kano, Nigeria, to teach at Abdullahi Bayero College (now Bayero University, Kano), where he also supervised (as Acting Director) the setting up of the Centre for the Study of Nigerian Languages, and I remember a mutual colleague once expressing genuine astonishment that “David never seemed to have made any real enemies”. This was a measure of his integrity, patience and even-handed professionalism, and the high regard in which he was held.

Arnott established his international reputation with his research on Fula(ni), a widely used language of the massive Niger-Congo family which is spoken (as a first language) by an estimated eight million people scattered throughout much of West and Central Africa, from Mauritania and Senegal to Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic and Chad (as well as the Sudan), many of them nomadic cattle herders.

Between 1956 and 1998 he produced almost 30 (mainly linguistic) publications on Fulani and in 1970 published his magnum opus, The Nominal and Verbal Systems of Fula (an expansion of his PhD dissertation), supplementing earlier works by his predecessors, the leading British and German scholars F.W. Taylor and August Klingenheben. In this major study of the Gombe (north-east Nigeria) dialect, he described, in clear and succinct terms, the complex system of 20 or more so-called “noun classes” (a classificatory system widespread throughout the Niger-Congo family which marks singular/plural pairs, often distinguishing humans, animals, plants, mass nouns and liquids). The book also advanced our understanding of the (verbal) tense- aspect and conjugational system of Fulani. His published research encompassed, too, Fulani literature and music.

In addition to Fulani, Arnott also worked on Tiv, another Niger-Congo language mainly spoken in east/central Nigeria, and from the late 1950s onwards he wrote more than 10 articles, including several innovative treatments of Tiv tone and verbal conjugations, in addition to a paper comparing the noun-class systems of Fulani and Tiv (“Some Reflections on the Content of Individual Classes in Fula and Tiv”, La Classification Nominale dans les Langues Négro-Africaines, 1967). Some of his carefully transcribed Tiv data and insightful analyses were subsequently used by theoretical linguists following the generative (“autosegmental”) approach to sound systems. (His colleague at Soas the renowned Africanist R.C. Abraham had already published grammars and a dictionary of Tiv in the 1930s and 1940s.)

In addition to Fulani and Tiv, Arnott taught undergraduate Hausa-language classes at Soas for many years, together with F.W. (“Freddie”) Parsons, the pre-eminent Hausa scholar of his era, and Jack Carnochan and Courtenay Gidley. He also pioneered the academic study of Hausa poetry at Soas, publishing several articles on the subject, and encouraged the establishment of an academic pathway in African oral literature.

The early 1960s were a time when the available language-teaching materials were relatively sparse (we had basically to make do with cyclostyled handouts), but he overcame these resource problems by organising class lessons with great care and attention, displaying a welcome ability to synthesise and explain language facts and patterns in a simple and coherent manner. He supervised a number of PhD dissertations on West African languages (and literature), including the first linguistic study of the Hausa language written by a native Hausa speaker, M.K.M. Galadanci (1969). He was genuinely liked and admired by his students.

David Arnott was a quiet man of deep faith who was devoted to his family. Following his retirement he and Kathleen moved to Moffat in Dumfriesshire (his father had been born in the county). In 1992 they moved again, to Bedale in North Yorkshire (where he joined the local church and golf club), in order to be nearer to their two daughters, and grandchildren.

Philip J. Jaggar
The Independent

Habré coupable ! Dadis à la barre !

Tchad. La Plaine des Morts
Tchad. La Plaine des Morts

Le glaive de la justice a doublement frappé l’ancien dictateur tchadien Hissène Habré aujourd’hui à Dakar. Dirigeant les Chambres africaines extraordinaires (CAE), le magistrat burkinaɓe Gberdao Gustave Kam, assisté des juges sénégalais Amady Diouf et Moustapha Bâ, a en effet reconnu l’accusé coupable de crimes contre l’humanité. Sujette à appel, la sentence de la cour est exemplaire et méritée : la prison à vie.
Ce jour est à marquer d’une pierre blanche, car il représente une victoire —maintes fois différée— des victimes sur les bourreaux dans l’Afrique post-coloniale.
Ce verdict constitue un jalon important dans la lutte contre l’impunité sur le continent. Mais il s’agit seulement d’une étape dans une course de fond et relai, d’une bataille dans une guerre permanente contre la tyrannie. D’autres despotes sont déjà tombés dans les filets de la justice. Exemples : l’ex-président du Libéria, Charles Taylor. Reconnu coupable de crimes contre l’humanité, de crimes de guerre et d’autres violations sérieuses de lois humanitaires internationales, il purge une peine de 50 ans de prison en Grande-Bretagne.

Moussa Dadis Camara
Moussa Dadis Camara

Le procès de Laurent Gbagbo, ancien président de la Côte d’Ivoire, s’est ouvert le 26 janvier dernier. Il répond à quatre chefs d’accusation relevant de crimes contre l’humanité — meurtre, viol et autres formes violence sexuelle, persécution et autres acts inhumains.
Comme on le voit les cas Habré et Ggagbo sont similaires aux crimes perpétrés en Guinée, de 1958 à nos jours.
Prenons le document intitulé “Report of the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry mandated to establish the facts and circumstances of the events of 28 September 2009 in Guinea”.

Cadavres et survivants du massacre au stade du 28 septembre, le 28 septembre 2009
Cadavres et survivants du massacre au stade du 28 septembre, le 28 septembre 2009

Le rapport accuse le chef de la junte militaire, Moussa Dadis Camara, alors capitaine, et ses collaborateurs d’être responsables de :

  • Crimes contre l’humanité
  • Crimes spécifiques : meurtre, emprisonnement et autres atteintes sérieuses contre la liberté physique
  • Tortures et de traitements cruels, dégradants et inhumains
  • Viols, esclavage sexuel, et violences sexuelles
  • Disparitions forcées
  • Actes inhumains
  • Persécution sexuelle, politique et ethnique
  • Violations des droits fondamentaux
Hissène Habré, ex-président du Tchad
Hissène Habré, ex-président du Tchad

M. Alpha Condé est soi-disant le président démocratiquement élu de la Guinée depuis 2010. Utilisant différentes méthodes et tactiques dilatoires, il retarde et/ou bloque l’enquête sur les massacres de 2009. Paradoxalement, des opposants politiques de M. Condé (UFDG, Bloc Libéral) ont voulu associer Dadis —exilé à Ouagadougou, capitale du Burkina Faso— à la campagne électorale de 2015, lui offrant ainsi une exonération éventuelle —extra-judiciaire et politicienne— face aux suspicions qui pèsent contre lui.
Mais les crimes énumérés ci-dessus restent punissables, quelque soit le délai mis pour déférer les accusés devant la justice. Il fallut 16 ans pour arrêter et juger Hissène Habré. Sept années se sont écoulées depuis la boucherie au stade du 28 septembre de Conakry. Il est temps que Moussa Dadis Camara passe à la barre.

Tierno S. Bah

Lire également :
A la barre. Hissène Habré condamné à la perpétuité : un procès pour l’histoire, mais des parts d’ombre
In landmark trial, former Chad dictator found guilty of crimes against humanity
La Plaine des Morts. Le Tchad de Hissène Habré

Vidéo : Reed Brody: The Dictator Hunter

Sable Mining. Corrupteurs et corrompus !

Le rapport de Global Witness (“The Deceivers”) a fait le tour du Web. Bravo pour l’investigation journalistique et bénévole. Elle contribue à démasquer la collusion entre les hégémonies extérieures (Europe, Amérique, Asie) et les “élites” intérieures (Afrique).
Le document ne fait cependant pas l’unanimité. Voici par exemple la réaction d’un Guinéen, qu’un correspondant a affichée sur ma page Facebook :

« Enquête ??? » s’interroge Touré Mohamed Hawa
Et de répondre, avec un naiveté et chauvinisme, et non sans se tromper dans l’orthographie du nom du chef du gouvernement britannique :
« Cette ONG Britannique ferait mieux de s’occuper de David Cameroon , leur Premier Ministre dans l’affaire Panama Papers avant tout…
Balayez devant votre propre maison d’abord!!!
N’importe quoi. »

Sable Mining. Schéma des rouages de la collusion entre corrupteurs extérieurs et corrompus intérieurs
Sable Mining. Schéma des rouages de la collusion entre corrupteurs extérieurs et corrompus intérieurs

Ma réponse à la réaction improvisée et non-fondée de M. Touré est la suivante :

Au 21è siècle les magouilles, manigances et malversations de la corruption endémique en Guinée et en Afrique seront exposées sur le Web. Qu’on le veuille ou non !

Pour commencer, le rapport de Global Witness s’attaque d’abord longuement aux activités suspectes de Phil Edmonds et Andrew Grovess : les hommes d’affaires et corrupteurs britanniques. Il expose clairment et dénonce sans ambiguité leurs manoeuvres et practiques corruptrices.

Ensuite, le document démontre leur influence nocive au Liberia.…

Au total Global Witness met à nu les “bénéficiaires” de l’argent de Sable Mining, les corrompus, dans cinq pays africains :

  • Liberia
  • Guinée
  • Mozambique
  • Zimbabwe
  • Afrique du Sud

On y retrouve des membres du gouvernement, des conseillers présidentiels, des haut-fonctionnaires, des officiers des forces de sécurité, etc.

Lire Sable Mining. The Deceivers: Guinea and Liberia

Il en découle que la cupidité et la veulerie des Africains et des Guinéens vont de pair avec l’aventurisme et le mépris que les escrocs étrangers ont pour les dirigeants du continent. Et comme toujours, l’Afrique et la Guinée sont perdantes.

Lire “Guinea Mining. Exploiting a State on the Brink of Failure” in The Anatomy of the Resource Curse: Predatory Investment in Africa’s Extractive Industries

La Guinée et Alpha Condé ne sont donc pas les seules cibles de Global Witness.

Mieux, le rapport de l’ONG souligne que rien ne prouve la participation du président guinéen aux transactions fraduleuses, financières et monétaires, de Sable Mining. Global Witness s’abstient donc de le mettre directement en cause. Cela ne minimise en rien le climat d’affairisme maintenu, depuis 2010, par M. Alpha Condé, avec ses élections truquées et deux mandats présidentiels remportés au prix de la vie de dizaines de Guinéens et à coups de corruption.

C’est Alpha Mohammed Condé, le fils du président, et son copain, Aboubacar Sampil, qui sont personnellement et directement incriminés par leurs propres actes : emails authentiques et irréfutables, transferts  de millions de dollars à des comptes bancaires étrangers, etc.

Lancée par Sékou Touré, la malédiction des mines hante et ruine l’Etat guinéen depuis 1958. Elle a plongé le pays dans la débâcle. Elle l’y maintient aujourd’hui avec le népotisme et sous le despotisme déficitaire, défaillant et dérélictieux d’Alpha Condé.

Voir le film La danse avec l’aveugle (1978)

Tierno S. Bah

Sable Mining. The Deceivers: Guinea and Liberia

Entitled “The Deceivers” Global Witness’ Report investigates and exposes the corrupt practices of British businessmen  Phil Edmonds and Andrew Groves. Operating from London, the duo is present in the mining sector in Liberia, Guinea  Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe…. I reprint here the Guinea and Liberia sections of the report. This version of the document corrects a glaring geography mistake: Liberia, not Gambia, shares with Guinea the Western chimpanzees habitat zone. And it includes relevant pictures and germane links.
Tierno S. Bah

Global Witness. “The Deceivers”, Sable Mining. “Guinea: The Prize”
Global Witness. “The Deceivers”, Sable Mining. “Guinea: The Prize”

As a spin bowler for the England cricket team Phil Edmonds won a reputation for deception and guile. He and his business partner Andrew Groves put those skills to use on the stock market, fleecing millions from investors as they carved out an African business empire with bribery and dirty tricks.

Guinea: The Prize

After Liberia, Edmonds and Groves set their sights on a new prize: Mount Nimba in Guinea. To win it, their company Sable Mining—still listed on AIM-got close to the future president, backing the campaign that brought him to power, courting his son and paying millions to one of his close friends to advance their business with bribery.

Phil Edmonds
Phil Edmonds

August 2010. Guinea is in the grip of election fever as the impoverished West African nation prepares to end five decades of dictatorship with its first free vote. Presidential candidate Alpha Condé is flying in with Sable Mining chief Andrew Groves—and Sable’s man in Conakry is worried the price of bribes is about to skyrocket.

Aboubacar Sampil
Aboubacar Sampil

“Once we get there on a plane with presi, the future head of the country, and two ‘big-shots’ from a big western company, trust me, prices will inflate like crazy,” Sable’s Guinean agent, Aboubacar Sampil, wrote in a 28 August email to a Sable executive. “Folks in the admin will try to get a lot, lot more for each step, leading to a minimum of about $500,000 not including the minister’s share.”

The email is among a cache of documents leaked to Global Witness by sources who requested anonymity.

Andrew Groves
Andrew Groves

Sable, listed by Edmonds and Groves on AIM in 2008, had spent the previous months lining up its first iron ore rights in Liberia. Now it was backing Condé’s campaign in neighbouring Guinea. To get close to Condé, Sable was courting his son, Alpha Mohammed Condé —with the implication that when his father became president, Sable’s interests in Guinea would be taken care of.

Alpha Mohammed Condé
Alpha Mohammed Condé

We look forward to bringing this political collaboration to life,” Alpha Mohammed wrote to Sable on 4 August 2010. “It will make my dad all the more comfortable to support our business partnerships and trust us as a team to be solution providers for many of the challenges he will face.

As Sable took care of campaign logistics—booking flights for the Condés, arranging meetings with a Liberian minister and the heads of South African intelligence, and offering the loan of a helicopter—its agent Sampil, an old confidante of Condé and a member of his entourage, was on the ground in Guinea scouting for permits.

To get them, he wanted money for bribes. Four times that August Sampil asked Sable for money via Alpha Mohammed’s Paris bank account, leaked emails seen by Global Witness show.

Now it is very important to make money transfer to the Alpha bank account. That can help to finalise faster with the technicians of the ministry,” Sampil wrote on one occasion. “They started giving me some information that I have to pay for. You know how things work.

Prime territory

Alpha Mohammed had sent Sable his bank details earlier in the month—but wiring cash to the son of a high-profile politician was proving tricky. “We are having a few issues with our risk/compliance people in terms of getting this payment made,” wrote Sable’s London lawyer on 17 August. Groves suggested routing the payment through a Sable account in South Africa.

Alpha Condé paid,” Groves wrote a few hours later to say he had sent the son his money. But 10 days later Sampil, who had asked for 15,000 euros, was still complaining that the transfer hadn’t come through.

Alpha Mohammed told Global Witness that he had never “attempted to use improper influence to assist Sable”—though the emails show that he was aware of plans to send bribe money through his account.

Any payments to Alpha Mohammed Condé from Sable Mining would have been for consultancy work or reimbursement for travel,” a spokesman for the Guinean government said. Alpha Mohammed “would be able to show that his bank never had more than 10,000 euros in his account”.

Sampil declined to comment for this report. Edmonds and Groves told Global Witness that if any bribery occurred in Guinea, it was without their knowledge. Jim Cochrane, Sable chairman since 2014, said the company obeys the law wherever it operates and that questions from Global Witness had “prompted a further internal review of all these matters, many of which were subject to review a number of years ago”.

Global Witness’s investigation did not reveal any evidence of wrongdoing by Alpha Condé Sr.

Condé won the election. And whatever Sampil was doing for Sable, by January 2012 his efforts were paying off. One of the key permits Sampil had applied for during the election campaign—when he was soliciting bribe money from Sable—came through: iron ore exploration rights in Mount Nimba on the Liberian border, prime mining territory close to concessions held by multinationals BHP Billiton and Arcelor-Mittal.

Sampil was handsomely rewarded. Sable appointed him a non-executive director with an annual salary of $120,000 and in 2014 paid him $6 million in “consultancy fees”. His importance to Sable “cannot be underestimated”, the company’s lawyer said in a 2012 court filing.

Sampil “does not hold any position with the government of the Republic of Guinea and does not represent the administration in any capacity”, the company told the Times. Payments to him were “fully justifiable and have been disclosed fully”, Cochrane wrote to Global Witness.

There was just one problem with the Nimba permit: it was illegal.

Special treatment

Maps of the exploration area granted to Sable show that it overlapped with the Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve, a World Heritage Site on Unesco’s danger list, home to the rare Western chimpanzee, already extinct in nearby Gambia Liberia, and the critically endangered Western Nimba viviparous toad, one of the only toad species that spawns live young.

About the Western Chimpanzees, watch Gilles Nivet’s documentary movie Le Pacte de Bossou. — T.S. Bah

While Sable’s permit was later adjusted to skirt the reserve just outside the boundary, in some places it remained less than 90 metres from the park. It also covered swathes of the buffer zone surrounding the reserve, which is also internationally recognised.

Letting Sable operate there “contravenes commitments made by our government to the international community”, warned environment minister Samady Touré in a letter to the mining minister on 9 August 2012, four days after the permit was revised. The company’s activities “are incompatible with the current status of the Strict Nature Reserve” under Guinean law, wrote Touré, who requested the cancellation of the permits.

“This contract involves a licence on the buffer zone of the Nimba site and not the protected area. It was believed that this would have lower negative impact,” a spokesman for the Guinean government told Global Witness in an email. “The basic premise of preferential treatment for Sable from the Condé government is simply incorrect.”

‘A quick and dirty job’

Touré’s protests went unheeded and three months later he was dismissed. Unesco officials who visited Nimba in 2013 feared for the future of the reserve. Sable’s planned mine could squeeze a band of endangered chimpanzees into a narrow corridor between mining concessions, said the Unesco team’s report, and forest landscapes already threatened by hunting, logging and farming would be isolated and fragmented.

But with no power to stop Sable, all Unesco could do was urge the company to carry out environmental impact assessments to the “highest international standards”. The report Sable produced in February 2015 didn’t come close, according to a senior Unesco official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

It was a “quick and dirty job”, the official told Global Witness. Sable’s consultants spent so little time in the field that they even mistook passing migrant birds for native wildlife.

“The bird inventory has as the two most common species two migrant species from Europe because they just did the inventory on the days they came through,” the official said. “It is very clear that they didn’t do proper baseline studies.”

Parts of the report, seen by Global Witness, look suspiciously like a hasty cut-and-paste job. Sable’s concession is a “nesting site for marine turtles”, it says. Nimba is 270 kilometres from the sea.

Secret recordings

On the ground in Nimba, Sable plied local officials with gifts to keep them on-side. In secret recordings of speeches from a village ceremony in July 2013, Guinean officials can be heard thanking Sable for its gifts: Sable renovated the local prefect’s house; local environmental and mining officials received 11 motorcycles and a pick-up truck.

With the officials taken care of, Sable had just one hurdle left to clear: getting its ore out of Guinea.

It was a nut that far bigger mining companies had failed to crack. Guinea’s big iron deposits are in the country’s south and east, from where the easiest export route is a short haul across Liberia to the coast by rail. But Guinea’s government was desperate for infrastructure, insisting that companies fund a much longer and costlier railway to the Guinean capital that would carry passengers as well as ore.

In August 2013, Sable succeeded where its competitors had failed when a Guinean ministerial decree granted the company the right to export through Liberia. With the Guineans onside, the Liberians followed, signing an export deal with Sable on 23 January 2013.

In London, the news sent Sable stock rocketing more than 300 per cent. But Edmonds and Groves may not have been telling investors the whole story. The Liberian railway was in the hands of international steel giant Arcelor-Mittal and the arrangement to use it was far from a done deal.

“There’s nothing agreed yet on the railway,” a person with close knowledge of talks between Arcelor and Sable told Global Witness, speaking anonymously due to the confidentiality of the discussions. Far from having secured an export route, Sable was more likely to end up fighting a “lengthy court battle”, the person said. The railway deal is “not yet consummated”, the Liberian government told Global Witness.

‘Just do what I do’

With a rail deal nowhere near as close as he was publicly claiming, Groves offered Arcelor an alternative: buying Sable’s ore “at the mine gate”, leaving the larger company to take care of transportation. But Arcelor officials suspected Groves of exaggerating the quality of Sable’s deposit, cherry-picking the best samples to make the overall quality seem higher, insiders say.

Even as iron ore prices slumped in 2014, Sable continued to tell the markets that Nimba was a workable prospect. But it’s unsure the company will ever get any iron out of Guinea.

Since Sable arrived in West Africa, Guinea has been hit by a deadly Ebola epidemic that left 2,536 dead and few companies with appetite for the foreign investment needed for recovery. But Andrew Groves has some advice for those who do feel equal to the challenge, say two people who attended a meeting with him in 2014.

Just get them all round the table—army, police, government, environmental, doesn’t matter who it is—we get them all round the table and we just give them money to make things happen and it all just goes away,” Groves said, according to one of them (the other gave a similar account). “You should just do what I do. Because everything goes smoothly when you do it like I do.

Global Witness

Next, Liberia: The Bribes